Washington — George Bush, already running hard for the presidency, may have jumped the gun in his quest for the White House in 1988. That's the view of Republican political veteran John Sears, who says of the vice-president:
``In the office that he holds, with the compulsion to be loyal [to Ronald Reagan] at all times, the best thing for him to do probably was to refrain from ever appearing as though he were running.''
By leaping early into the 1988 race, Mr. Bush has given up the one major advantage he had: his unique, above-the-fray position in the White House, Mr. Sears says.
In a wide-ranging breakfast meeting with reporters, the Washington attorney who was campaign manager for Mr. Reagan in 1975-76 and 1979-80 touched on both the 1986 Senate races and the 1988 presidential contest. On Bush's strategy for 1988, he said:
``If you're vice-president, what you ought to be doing is looking around the local premises for things that you can do that might make you look more presidential.''
Sears explains, ``Your real power . . . is that the closeness you have to the office gives you a better chance to look as though you ought to be president. And you ought to take advantage of that.
``The minute you step out and start doing the same things that other people do who want this office, you are giving up a section of your power. And you allow yourself to look just like the rest of them.''
Bush, however, has followed just the opposite strategy. He has vigorously pursued support in key states like Michigan, Iowa, and New Hampshire and gone head-to-head against such Republican challengers as US Rep. Jack Kemp of New York and the Rev. Pat Robertson.
Most embarrassing, Bush found himself upstaged in the early maneuvering in Michigan when Mr. Robertson filed about the same number of candidates to run as precinct delegates.
Sears says Bush should have let the other presidential hopefuls slug it out between themselves for the right to be his principal challenger. He could have safely stayed above the battle for at least another year.
On the 1986 Senate races, Sears suggests that Republicans should be able to retain control of the upper chamber, despite recent Democratic gains in states like Alabama and Georgia, where the races are tightening.
He points particularly to potential GOP pickups in Missouri, Louisiana, California, and Colorado. These new seats could offset possible losses elsewhere, such as Florida and North Carolina.
Looking ahead to 1988, Sears points to several Democratic presidential candidates who might prove formidable. Sears is particularly impressed with New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, and Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey.
Sen. Gary Hart, the current Democratic front-runner, probably benefits from the experience he gained in 1984, Sears says. But Senator Hart also picked up some political opposition in 1984, especially among the leadership of organized labor. That could prove a major obstacle in uniting the party.
Sears says a major problem for the Democrats is that they've lost their Northeast base. They haven't even carried Massachusetts, the most liberal Northeastern state, since 1976. Their first task, therefore, must be to solidify their hold on states like Massachusetts and New York, Sears says, and this is what makes candidates like Cuomo and Biden so attractive.